My wife and I arrived in Naples, Italy, late in October 1989. We had shipped our Chevy Chevette in early September and expected it to arrive in Italy about the same time we did. After our arrival I checked with the military shippers and learned that not only was the car not in Naples, they really did not know where it was and could not tell me when to expect it.
In the part of Naples we wanted to live in, not having a car severely limited our movements. By early November we had selected a house and needed to move, but still didn’t have our car. A friend mentioned he had a “beater” for sale, cheap, so I opted to check it out. The car turned out to be a rather pretty white 1976 Alfa Romeo “Alfetta” four door sedan. My friend admitted it needed some work, including needing a new water pump, tune-up, and a new master clutch cylinder. But the car still ran, the price was extremely right, and I needed wheels. I handed over cash the next day and drove the car to the transit hotel where we were staying.
This car had some very unique engineering features including a DeDion rear axle suspension that I had never seen or even heard of before. It was a front engine / rear manual transmission with high-speed drive shaft and a floor mounted shifter. The handling, for a four door sedan, was almost as much fun as my former MG Midget, and the car was much more reliable; once I fixed all the broken stuff.
After years of working on my Chevy Luv, MG, and the still missing Chevette, working on this car was simple. It just had a basic high-performance Italian-spec’ed engine with lots of open engine compartment space. Spark plugs were in a straight line right on top of the valve cover, and no massive electronics to complicate things.
Then I got around to replacing the water pump.
I could easily see the pump. I could also see that I needed to remove the crankshaft-mounted main pulley, held on with an equivalent 1-7/8 inch bolt, to get the pump off. To remove the pulley I needed to first buy a properly sized metric socket wrench. The only socket I could find in that size required a 3/4 inch drive handle, so I had to buy one of those. Then I discovered that the bolt was on so tight the drive shaft was turning as I attempted to loosen it. To jam the drive shaft required a monkey wrench clamped on it, jammed against the ground, with a friend holding it in place while I used a length of pipe on the end of the socket wrench and a second person helping me pull on the bolt. With this, the bolt did in fact loosen – an example of shade tree mechanics at it’s finest. After that, replacing the pump was a fifteen minute job.
Once I had all the mechanical problems fixed, the car was a sweet commuter vehicle. It had local Italian plates, not the AFI plates most American-owned vehicles had, which meant the local Italian drivers did not recognize me as an American. I was treated just like just another Italian driver, which was both good and bad. Bad because they expected me to understand local driving customs, good because I didn’t need to worry near as much about someone stealing the car when I parked in out in public.
The car was also fuel efficient for the way it handled, so buying gas at local economy prices was not that much of an issue.
Our Chevette finally turned up in December, several weeks after we moved into our new home. By now, my first wife decided that she was not ever going to drive in Italy on grounds that it was just “too dangerous.” She didn’t seem bothered by the fact that with her not driving meant I’d have to do more driving to get her around and run chores, and therefore expose myself to more of those dangerous driving conditions. Whatever. What her decision did mean was that we had no need for two cars.
Since we could get AFI plates for our Chevette, and tax-exempt fuel coupons, I decided to sell my Alfetta. In early spring I put up an ad on the base bulletin board, and got a call within minutes. I showed the car, showed the receipts for work I had done, named my price and the potential buyer didn’t even blink. I actually sold the car for more than I paid, including the new parts I put in.
I owned this car about six months and wished I had kept it longer.